The photographer and the better mousetrap

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All the way through history, man has been trying to build a better mousetrap. Photographically this is still the case. From the old box brownie of several decades ago, we now have the all singing, all dancing, electronic marvels of today. And just look what the new cameras can do – cameras that will even “think” for you and work out the required shutter speeds for the kind of shot you are going to take. With these sorts of mousetraps we should all be wonderful award winning photographers. Unfortunately we are not.

This fine example of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not the be all and end all of photography. Your camera may have all the algorithms, so the modern camera can get the exposure close enough and the correct shutter speed for the type of shot, but it cannot arrange the items to be photographed in the correct position. Nor can the camera position itself in the right place relative to the subjects to be photographed, nor does AI tell the camera just exactly what do you wish to portray.

One of the principal “rules” of photography is to remember just who or what is the “hero” in the shot. This is one thing the better mousetrap does not know. It is not a mind reader. You have to arrange the items and compose the shot to make the subject the hero.

How many times have you photographed someone in front of an important cathedral, temple or monument? Many times I am sure. You also have a person you want to include in the shot, to show that on your holidays you took Uncle Henry and showed that he was there by placing him in front of the cathedral. And what do you end up with? A tiny Uncle Henry in front of an enormous building. So small it is difficult to recognize him!

With these types of “people in front of a special place” shots first you have to compose the picture by moving the camera into place so that you have all you want of the special building, for example. Having done that, now put your subject in front of the camera and you will instantly note that the person will immediately move backwards to be closer to the building, almost as if making sure of ruining the shot for you, before you begin! What you now have to do is to look through the viewfinder and call the person forward till they fill the viewfinder. Even go for a waist-up view to get the person even larger in the photograph if you wish.

Another “rule” that I have to continually tell new photographers is the “Walk several yards (meters) closer” approach. More good shots are rendered useless by being too far away from the camera, than by being too close to the lens.

While it would be nice if the better mousetrap could ring a bell and tell you that you are too far away, its electronic “brain” isn’t that good yet. You have to use yours. That is one reason why good photographers will never be replaced by better mousetraps. The technology may belong to the camera, but the “eye” is yours. Just remember to use it!